When he arrived at Nikiski High School in the fall of 1991, Scott Anderson was immediately given a challenge by entering into a fledgling football program that had yet to win its first game. The previous season saw the Bulldogs go winless without scoring a single point.
In his trademark patient and deliberate approach, Anderson helped give a coaching staff the spark it needed to break through for its first win, and the rest, they say, is history.
“I like to say that Nikiski is like the best kept secret on the peninsula,” Anderson said in a recent interview.
Anderson spent the next 27 years coaching and teaching at Nikiski, and molded not only a great individual career but, more importantly, great individual students and community leaders.
“The school administration and staff have always done a great job building a great school and great citizens,” he said. “I’m always impressed with the kids, whether we’re going on trips, no matter who’s coaching, the kids are always super respectful, and other adults are commenting on how amazing and respectful the kids are.”
Anderson eventually guided Nikiski to a pair of state football championships, then made his mark in basketball with four state runs in seven years with the girls team.
On March 24 of this year, Anderson put a period on his notable coaching career with a win in the Class 3A state hoops tournament fourth-place game, stepping off the court for the final time as a coach.
And, once again in typical patient fashion as to not call attention to himself, Anderson waited until after the tournament was over to make the announcement to his team.
“With the foundation he’s laid, it will continue to thrive,” said Nikiski boys coach and good friend Reid Kornstad. “He’s a leader of leaders.”
Anderson capped his career with the basketball program with a coaching record of 98-69 and four state appearances in seven years (it could have been five in seven if not for a last-second buzzer beater loss to Houston in the 2013 conference tournament).
Anderson said he will continue to teach technology, language arts and history at Aurora Borealis Charter School in Kenai.
It was later announced that Nikiski boys team assistant Rustin Hitchcock would take over as head coach of the girls program, pairing up with current boys coach Reid Kornstad, Hitchcock’s former head coach when he played for the team. Hitchcock is a 2003 Nikiski graduate.
Anderson said the decision to hire Hitchcock wasn’t his, but noted that when he saw who was available, Hitchcock was the best candidate in his mind.
“He’s a great guy, and it’s really cool to be able to see a guy like Rustin take over the program,” Anderson said. “He’s a high quality individual and he’s going to be a fantastic fit out there.”
In figuring out how Anderson lasted so long, the people that knew him best have the answers.
Retired mathematics teacher Bill Thompson, who worked with Anderson as an assistant hoops coach for all seven years, called Anderson’s style a very disciplined lesson in leading a team.
“He invested a lot of time, for one,” Thompson said. “He took the girls to team camp and held a lot of open gyms in the summer and fall.”
One of Anderson’s star players was 2015 grad Rachel Thompson, Bill’s daughter, who now is a starting goalkeeper for the Washington State University soccer team. Thompson was part of a Nikiski girls team that went to state in 2014 and 2015, Thompson’s final two years in school.
Bill Thompson said Anderson’s influence on his daughter and every athlete that came through the program was apparent to see in the way they carried themselves on and off the court.
“I think he just does a great job of teaching good fundamentals, has a good team concept and good team discipline,” Thompson said. “He’s just a quality guy to coach with. I like his style, he keeps a pretty even keel.”
Together, Thompson and Anderson have combined with Anderson’s wife, Sari, to create a close-knit coaching staff that puts the players first. Kornstad said Sari Anderson has played a crucial role for the program in working with her husband, one that may go unnoticed much of the time.
“They make a very special team, together they make sure the girls understand the right way to treat one another,” he said. “The combination of having that couple … those girls have had the opportunity to be highly impacted as young women.”
Anderson began at Nikiski as an assistant football coach. The team hadn’t burst out of the gates as an infant program, as an 0-29 start will attest.
“In 1991 I was just glad to get a job,” he said. “I showed up in February the year before and didn’t get one call for an interview.
“I kept trying all through the summer, and two days into the school year, I get a call for a part-time position at Nikiski.”
Once adjusted to the community, Anderson thrived. The Bulldogs football program had gone winless from 1988 to 1992, but their hard work finally paid off with an inaugural victory against the Colony Knights.
Anderson stepped up to the head coaching role in 1994, and took Nikiski to its first winning season in 1997 — “It took almost 10 years to do it,” he said — before the floodgates really opened wide.
Anderson helped develop Nikiski into a genuine state powerhouse around the turn of the century, helping the Bulldogs capture repeat state titles in 2000 and 2001, and beating some big teams along the way.
Wins against Soldotna and Seward helped boost their stock, and a 9-0 season in 2000 brought great expectations the following year when 22 seniors returned. One of the program’s biggest victories came against Service, a win still talked about today in the halls of Nikiski.
“We were just tiny Nikiski with 300 kids,” Anderson recalled. “I look back on that year and that was a special group. We had some amazing kids that came through that still today, you look at them, and they’re doing amazing things. They were a highly motivated group.”
Anderson stepped down to an assistant role in 2002, then took two years off before joining with head coach Ned Clooten for another run of strong years with the team. Anderson said the years 2005 through 2015 were “a blast” working with Clooten and then Ted Riddall.
After the small-schools division of football was created by ASAA, the Bulldogs reached the state title game in five straight years, winning in 2011 and 2013.
In all, Anderson put together 27 years in various roles as head and assistant coaching positions, including 23 with the football team.
“The biggest thing for me is I coached at Nikiski for so many years,” he said. “I think the weird thing for me is not being a part of that school in some capacity.”
When it comes down to it, Anderson is a football guy. He first coached the sport as an assistant in Oregon before scooting on up to Alaska.
In the offensive coordinator role during the years he wasn’t head coach, Anderson picked plays and dialed in the Bulldogs offense with a fine precision.
When he arrived on the basketball court, Anderson said he had to relearn how to coach. He contrasted the different coaching styles of football and basketball, explaining that football allows a coach to have a much bigger impact on the game, with stoppages in play every few seconds giving the staff time to draw up a new scheme.
In basketball, Anderson said most of the coaching is done in practices and during timeouts, while the final score is often dictated by the course of play. Anderson said hoops was a taste he had to learn to acquire.
“Football was like a first love, I had the ability to be part of the game,” Anderson said. “Basketball came later in life.”
Anderson took over as head hoops coach in fall 2011, and his first full season resulted in a 6-19 record with the team, but the program’s fortunes soon took off and by 2014 finished with a 20-6 campaign and a state appearance.
In his final two seasons with the team in 2016 and 2017, the Bulldogs racked up a combined 50-11 record, with a deep team of talented players the result of Anderson’s coaching effect.
While Anderson was never able to include a state crown on his basketball resume — he guided the team to two fourth-place finishes, as well as three runner-up finishes at the region tourney — he also didn’t think he’d still be teaching out in Nikiski as long as he has.
Kornstad, a 1991 Nikiski grad who played college basketball at Northwest Nazarene University, said he’s soaked up a lot of knowledge from his fellow coach and good friend.
He’s just a great sports mind,” Kornstad added. “He’s so sharp and understands competition and people. I know that his passion for coaching is in football, but always such a great basketball mind. always fun to talk Xs and Os and strategy with him.”
Kornstad, who has been a Nikiski stalwart since his playing days as a high school athlete, knows a thing or two about coaching greats out in Nikiski, and said he will never regret spending time with Anderson not only on the coaching stage, but as friends who have commercial fished together and who share a common faith.
“He brought in a tradition of excellence and attention to detail,” Kornstad said. “One of the things he brought in was his ability to bring a coaching staff together, and a group of people together and rally around a common goal.”
As an assistant with the boys program last year, Hitchcock said Anderson’s influence reached both squads. A long list of basketball coaches at Nikiski, highlighted by Ward Romans, Lee Moore and Anderson, set the standard for excellence, one that Hitchcock has attempted to emulate.
“You knew the offense would be well executed and the defense would be tough as nails,” Hitchcock said. “He had a structured way to run practice, and his players were going to resemble that leadership.”
It started for Hitchcock as a seventh-grader walking into world history class.
“He was just very relatable,” Hitchcock said. “He was immediately connecting with all of us on the same level, and I found myself listening and hanging onto every word he said.”
Hitchcock’s emergence into Anderson’s spot has come full circle. He played at Nikiski, coached at Cook Inlet Academy and now returns to his old stomping grounds, and he certainly brings the proper credentials after winning a Class 1A state girls championship in 2013 as head coach at Cook Inlet Academy. Hitchcock coached the Eagles to a tense, triple-overtime win over peninsula rival Nikolaevsk in that game.
Now, with lessons learned from an old mentor, Hitchcock has been given a legacy of success to uphold.
“It’s a pretty storied program in Nikiski,” Hitchcock said. “There’s a lot of state titles and state appearances.
“(Anderson) left the cupboard pretty full.”